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Ag Group: EPA Renewable Fuel Rules a Mixed Bag

Sustainable=agriculture advocates say the EPA's new renewable-fuel standards are good, but don't go far enough to spur new sources. Credit: JZlomek/morguefile.com
Sustainable=agriculture advocates say the EPA's new renewable-fuel standards are good, but don't go far enough to spur new sources. Credit: JZlomek/morguefile.com
December 2, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. - It took two years of delays, but this week the Environmental Protection Agency finally released new renewable-fuel standards for the country.

The rules include upping the amount of renewable fuel, mostly corn-based ethanol, to more than 18 billion gallons by 2016. That will bring renewable sources up to about 10 percent of the national fuel supply.

However, advocates for sustainable agriculture such as Jonathan Hladik, senior policy advocate for energy and climate at the Center for Rural Affairs, say the EPA's original rules from earlier this year set a renewable fuel target of 22 billion gallons. Hladik said he thinks that's where it should have stayed.

"A small increase in the advanced biofuels mandate," he said. "This is the number that needs to grow if biofuels are going to remain an important part of the rural economy."

The North Dakota Ethanol Council reported that the corn biofuel industry brings in about $640 million to the state economy, but Hladik said the new EPA mandates don't go far enough to encourage new sustainable-fuel options beyond corn.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, North Dakota could be producing 470 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol, the type of biofuel made from materials such as wood, certain grasses or the inedible parts of plants such as wheat. As the nation's top wheat producer, Hladik said North Dakota is uniquely positioned to lead the charge with emerging alternative fuels.

"In order to get the technology where it needs to be, we need to make sure that we have our foot on the gas pedal, and we're doing what we can to help this industry thrive, and to evolve," he said. "Certainly this announcement could have done a better job of helping us do that."

Still, the EPA has set its new national target for cellulosic biofuels to 230 million gallons in 2016, which is almost double the amount for this year.

Data from the NRDC on North Dakota energy is online at nrdc.org. North Dakota Ethanol Council statistics are at ndethanol.org.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND